TAMPA — Look at us, live, from Tampa.
We tidied up. We spent a huge amount of human energy rolling out the municipal welcome mat. We pruned our rights of way and planted palm trees along our boulevards and decorated our buildings with roman numerals.
Believe In Now.
With foreclosures setting records and the homeless shelters running out of beds and one in 10 of us needing government help to eat?
Not that Now.
Believe in this Now, this suspension of reality, this super-sized Super Bowl XLIII, where the downtown trolleys are packed and the drivers honk and Tampa feels slightly cosmopolitan.
"Give the recession a break for this next m----- f------ three days," Diddy said at his Clearwater party. "We're gonna drink and have a good time."
Believe in dropping $2,650 on a seat in Section 338.
Believe in $9 foot-long Tampa dogs covered in cholesterol and jalapeños.
Believe in $10 Budweisers in souvenir cups, $95 Super Bowl hoodies and overflowing trash cans.
Believe in APPROVED, and buckets of French fries, and keeping secrets from your wife.
Believe in mass indulgence. (Can't afford it? Sign up for a Visa at the booth around the corner and get a free Bank of America Super Bowl blanket!)
President Obama, pregame: "The Super Bowl is one of the finest American experiences."
The American experience, outside the stadium, looks a bit like the End Times, with helicopters in the sky and people walking down the middle of the highway and government snipers on rooftops and street apostles standing on folding chairs. (Where are all the children?)
Inside, it looks like lines at the ATMs, then lines at the beer cart, then lines at the urinals.
It looks like Mike Hicks in the upper deck, a 41-year-old public works employee from Pittsburgh who dropped $1,200 on a ticket, $400 on four nights in a Plant City Comfort Inn, $150 on gas, $500 on Steelers souvenirs, and $66 — make that $76 — on pre-game intoxicants.
"This is my third Super Bowl," he says. "And write this down: Tampa is the most hosp … hospititable town yet."
What did he sacrifice to get here?
"I have to kiss my wife's a-- for letting me come here," says Hicks.
"We have to stop on the way home and get some ChapStick," says his buddy.
Here come Bill and Barbara Lenz and their three kids from Pittsburgh who dropped $15,000 on the trip.
"It's a bucket list item," says Bill, a foot and ankle surgeon. "I always told my kids we'd do this, and I had to keep that promise."
This recession is harder to recognize here because it doesn't play out in sepia, but in high def, with pyrotechnics and a military flyover.
Here they come now.
"Over the scoreboard," says a man standing beside some wounded soldiers, to no one in particular. "Three. Two. One. Yeah!"
Cameras twinkle in the crowd. Fireworks light the field. It sounds like short, quick thunder, then it's gone.
Super Bowl XLIII felt like one final splurge.
There was still room on the credit card. We promise to pay it off. Just not Now.
Ben Montgomery can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8650.